INLAND: Region gets millions for homeless veterans

Two Inland Empire agencies have been given $4.5 million to help tackle homelessness among veterans and their families.

U.S. Veterans Affairs announced Tuesday that it was awarding $3 million to the United States Veterans Initiative on former March Air Force Base property in Moreno Valley, and $1.5 million to Moreno Valley’s Lighthouse Treatment Center. Both agencies serve populations in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The grants are part of a surge strategy against veterans homelessness in 56 high-need regions across the country. The money, which comes in addition to annual grants announced in August, will be paid out over the next three years as part of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. Both funding streams are designed to end homelessness among veterans by the end of next year.

Local experts said the funds should be enough to meet the challenge.

“It’s going to make a wonderful difference,” said Karyn Young-Lowe, CEO of Lighthouse Treatment Center. “It’s going to allow us to expand our services out into the Riverside County desert region in a stronger way.”

The nonprofit center also plans to add services to the Yucca Valley/Twentynine Palms region.

The funding, she said, will expand the agency’s capacity by about 50 percent.

This year, it served 150 families in the two-county region. Next year, she expects to serve 75 more.

At U.S. Vets, Executive Director Eddie Estrada said the $3 million his agency will get over the next three years will more than double its capacity.

“Were going to be able to house 450 (additional) veterans and their families,” Estrada said, bringing the agency’s total to 724.

Other facilities of U.S. Vets, which is based in Inglewood, benefited as well. Its programs in Nevada, Hawaii and its facility in Long Beach received a total of $11.5 million. Volunteers of America of Los Angeles, in Orange, received a $3 million grant.

Both Moreno Valley agencies plan to add personnel and office space to handle the increased load. U.S. Vets will expand its offices in Colton and open a new office in central Riverside, Estrada said. Lighthouse will have a presence in the Coachella Valley. The two agencies are working together to coordinate their efforts.

“We actually sat down with Karen and, geographically, we identified where are the highest concentrations of homeless vets?” he said. “We said, ‘You take care of this area. We’ll take care of this area.’ We’ll meet monthly and check on progress.”

Estrada said the two agencies are running point on an effort by a coalition of public and private agencies that was established two years ago to focus on the problem of veterans homelessness.

The agencies have a two-pronged approach to homelessness. One addresses chronically homeless individuals by getting them into housing as quickly as possible and connecting them with social services that will help them remain off the streets. The other program is preventative.

Of the more than 200,000 veterans in the Inland Empire, Estrada said, 150 families are in immediate danger of losing their homes. Both his and Young-Lowe’s agencies assist such families with money and support services.

“We’re preventing them from hitting the street,” he said.

The surge is part of a campaign by the VA and the Obama administration to end veteran homelessness by 2015.

Estrada, who said he has worked in homelessness prevention for 18 years, starting in Los Angeles’ Skid Row, said he thinks the goal is reachable, especially with the additional funding.

“I really believe in what the administration is doing. I really believe at the local level what the county is doing as far as rallying the service providers to end homelessness among our veterans,” he said.

Technically, Estrada and others are ultimately trying to end chronic homelessness among veterans.

There will always be some homeless veterans, he said, but with the programs that have been established, their time on the street should be brief. In addition, he thinks the services put in place for homeless veterans will serve as a model for broader programs.

“They took a niche group and ended homelessness among veterans,” he said, anticipating the program’s success. The next step, he said, will be to “move that into other homeless populations and subgroups.”

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